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A grandmother seeks help from mental health services after her grandson, who has an intellectual disability and a history of mental illness, assaults her.

A crisis cannot be resolved over the phone. The mobile crisis squad is in action.

Crisis Counselor Cedric McNeer collects documents and searches for an address. His colleague, Teralyn Turner, turns to her grandmother for more information. Along with two others mental health professionalsthey rush into a white van.

Their mission is to eliminate the mental health crisis. They don’t have sirens or flashing beacons. Unlike the police, they do not have handcuffs or weapons.

“Come on, let’s help some people,” McNeer tells the team every time they set off.

A three-digit national mental health helpline was launched in July to facilitate help in the event of a mental health crisis. It will eventually replace the harder-to-remember 10-digit number known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 line has already expanded, including in Philadelphia, and most calls are answered by phone. But when a call requires a personal response, a mobile crisis center is often the answer.

Mental health advocates say the success of trying to make 988 a one-call crisis solution depends on the ability to refer mental health and behavioral health providers. The alternative is to rely on the police, which they fear will escalate. About a quarter of people killed by police in recent years were experiencing a mental health crisis.

Answering a grandmother’s call on the last day of summer, the team in a white van turns off the radio for a quiet drive home to West Philadelphia. Turner calls her on the phone and learns that she is not hurt, but sounds surprised. Her grandson had never attacked her before.

The team doesn’t want to draw attention to the family’s mental health issues. The van is unmarked, but they park a block or two away anyway. Team members do not wear uniforms, only name tags. They carry exchange boards.

Inside the home, McNeer and Turner first made sure the grandmother did not need medical attention. The grandson was in another room talking about killing himself or others.

The team looks for clues of imminent danger, such as the presence of a weapon or a specific plan of action. They rate the threat as low. When they offer to take him to the hospital to see a psychiatrist, he agrees.

“He admitted he needed help,” McNeer said. – This was the most important thing.

The grandson leaves the house, going down the steps and holding his grandfather’s arm. Both are smiling. There is no need for a police response. Grandpa thanks the team, and his grandson puts on his mask and gets into the van.

The group was dispatched from The Consortium, a behavioral health nonprofit, and one of four that work with the city to respond to calls that come in through 988 or the Philadelphia Crisis Line at (215) 685-6440.

Those who work at The Consortium have painful memories about what can go wrong if the police are not trained mental health professionals are the only option in such crises.

In October 2020, two Philadelphia police officers shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old man who was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Body camera footage of the incident shows Wallace in the lane as he walks away with the knife.

He was well known to the Consortium, living a few blocks away. He was treated there just a few days ago.

“Our biggest disappointment was that we didn’t get a chance to help him,” John White, executive director of The Consortium, said during a July roundtable discussion with federal officials to run 988.

City officials say nearly two years later, things are different, in part because they’ve ramped up mobile response teams. There are now four providers with multiple locations, each focused on introducing specific areas of the city.

“The teams are getting to know the communities,” said Jill Bowen, commissioner of the Department of Health and Disability.

The capacity is still not as powerful as the city or some activists want. But it is more reliable than it was before the pandemic, when only one unit worked around the clock in the city.

Responding in community can create an immediate sense of familiarity, which in itself can help defuse a tense situation. At least it was that summer day.

On the way to the hospital, one of the counselors, Adrian Y. Parks, a trained psychologist, points out the window and says, “You see that school right here? I went to this school.” After half a block, she points to the window on the other side of the car: “and this is my church.”

A patient in the back seat starts laughing as team members tease each other about who went to the best school, and one admits he grew up in North Philadelphia. He asks for music and the team complies, although they usually drive with the radio off.

The song “Fire and Desire” by Rick James and Tina Marie is playing on the radio. A young man questions his advisers, who sings a song. The van fills with laughter again as McNeer parks in front of the Cedar Avenue entrance to Penn Medicine.

Not every call ends in laughter. Crisis workers often face difficult dilemmas, such as when to call the police and get someone to go to treatment. For many, this is personal work. They are in crisis because they themselves or someone they love has struggled with mental illness or addiction.

“It gives back,” said Turner, a crisis intervention consultant who was part of the team involved in responding to the grandmother’s call.

Back in the car, on the way back to The Consortium, she turns to her colleague McNair to debrief.

“He loves his grandparents,” McNeer says. – He wanted help.

2022. The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: When a mental health crisis requires more than a phone call, these mobile devices come to the rescue (2022, October 7) retrieved October 7, 2022 from crises-require -conversation.html

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